Tygers practice

Mansfield Senior High School football players go through drills earlier this summer at Arlin Field. (Richland Source file photo)

COLUMBUS -- Just a few days before practices for the 2020 high school seasons are to begin, the Ohio High School Athletic Association made it clear contact sports are still on shaky ground due to COVID-19.

In a letter Tuesday to school superintendents, principals and athletic directors, OHSAA Interim Executive Director Bob Goldring announced the suspension of any planned scrimmages between schools in football, soccer, field hockey and cross country.

Goldring said practices in those sports may begin Saturday as scheduled, though Gov. Mike DeWine hinted Tuesday during his daily press briefing that he may have additional guidance Thursday regarding the return of high school sports.

Winter high school sports tournaments were halted in March when the pandemic reached Ohio and spring sports were completely wiped out.

DeWine was non-committal Tuesday when asked about school decisions on how to begin the academic year, much less resume sports seasons. Columbus City Schools announced this week it would only do online classes for the first nine weeks with no in-class instruction.

"These are tough decisions," DeWine said. "If we do what we need to do, we can start growing these numbers in the right direction. We have a long, long history of school districts making their own decisions. We have given them significant guidance and we may add to that Thursday. If I see kids in danger in this state ... we will take action.

"We have schools, superintendents and parents trying to figure out what this world will look like (in a few weeks). No one can tell them. I can't tell them," he said.

In his letter, Goldring said plans remain on track for  low/non-contact sports of golf, girls tennis and volleyball to begin practices on Saturday with school vs. school scrimmages and contests to follow per their normal OHSAA permissible dates and regulations.

The OHSAA announcement came one day after athletes at Westerville Central and Bexley high schools in central Ohio had  tested positive COVID-19 coronavirus, temporarily halting practice plans for the football teams at both schools.

"We are waiting for more guidance from the Governor’s Office and Department of Health on when school vs. school competition can begin and are hopeful of that permission being granted for our normal contest dates later in August," Goldring said.

"To that end, school vs. school scrimmages (in contact sports) are SUSPENDED. We do not anticipate that suspension changing soon and there remains the possibility that no scrimmages will be permitted in the contact sports of football, soccer and field hockey. We will certainly keep you updated if that changes," Goldring said in the letter.

He said conversations are ongoing to have the sports of field hockey and cross country placed into the  low/non-contact category. 

Goldring again rang the warning bell in the closing of his letter to member schools.

"Our discussions with the Governor’s Office are clear . . . If we want our student-athletes to learn the lifelong lessons and receive the social, emotional and physical benefits that the privilege of participating in education-based interscholastic athletics programs provide, we all have to be accountable for following all mandates and requirements," Goldring said.

"By not following the mandates and requirements, we are putting our student-athletes at risk of not only contracting and/or spreading COVID-19 but also at risk of losing the season for themselves, their families, their teammates, their schools and their communities.

"Mandates and requirements put into place must be followed in order for the Governor’s Office to continue to allow us to participate," Goldring said.

He said the OHSAA is working to finish game-day mandates and requirements that must be strictly enforced and that administrators, coaches and student-athletes will be held accountable for non-compliance.

"So as to not cause alarm, these mandates and requirements will be to elevate many of the recommendations that were provided in the 'OHSAA Return to Play Recommendations' document to the level of mandates and requirements and should not require wholesale modifications to your game-day protocol," Goldring said.

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